The use of prescription pain pills during the course of a pregnancy may be warranted in cases of injury, infection, surgery or chronic disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, in 2011, an estimated two to three percent of women were treated with prescription pain medications, also known as opioid analgesics before or during pregnancy. Unfortunately, the way these pills affect the brain can predispose an expectant mother to prescription pain pill abuse without her even knowing it.
Once prescription pain pill abuse practices take hold, both the mother and the developing fetus face certain risks that become more so dangerous as the pregnancy term progresses. Being able to spot signs of developing prescription pain pill abuse can help you in getting needed treatment help before the damaging effects of these drugs cause serious harm to you and your baby.
How Does Prescription Pain Pill Abuse Develop?
Opioid analgesics work by interfering with the body’s pain management system and stimulating certain key chemical reactions in the brain and central nervous system. In effect, prescription pain pill abuse develops out of the slowing effects of these drugs on brain chemical pathways and the body’s major systems.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the damaging effects of opioids on the brain’s neurotransmitter-producing cells become cumulative over time, turning the brain into an opioid dependent environment. Once this dependency takes hold, it becomes increasingly difficult to stop using the drug the longer a person continues to engage in prescription pain pill abuse.
Effects on a Developing Fetus
Considering how opiate effects work to slow brain and central nervous system functions, any number of complications can result in harm to the fetus. These slowing effects affect a woman’s metabolism functions, weaken tissue growth and development and can also incite irregular muscle contractions in the uterus.
The effects to a developing fetus can vary depending on the stage of pregnancy in which drug abuse occurs. Possible effects of prescription pill abuse to the fetus include:
- Premature delivery
- Still birth
- Low birth weight
- Uterine contractions that cut off blood supply to the fetus
- Impaired placental functioning which limits the amount of oxygen and nutrients the fetus receives
Potential Risks to the Newborn Baby
Whenever ingested, opiate materials can travel from a woman’s bloodstream into the placenta and easily expose the fetus to the drug’s effects. According to the U. S. National Library of Medicine, these effects can cause a baby to be born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome or NAS, a condition where newborns exhibit symptoms of opiate withdrawal.
Symptoms of NAS typically develop within 48 to 72 hours after birth, but can also take shape as late as four weeks from the birthdate. Symptoms of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome include the following:
- Rapid breathing rate
- Blotchy or mottled skin color
- Problems sleeping
- Seizure episodes
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When to Get Help
In actuality, prescription pain pill abuse produces many of the same damaging effects as heroin so using this class of drugs right before or during a pregnancy comes with considerable risks. If you or someone you know struggles with prescription pain pill abuse while pregnant and have questions about opiate abuse or need help finding treatment programs in your area, please feel free to call our toll-free helpline at 800-442-6158 Who Answers? to speak with one of our phone counselors.